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HIGH PROFILE: David Ray Montague helps lead online learning and faculty mentoring at UALR

Professor David Montague helps lead online learning and faculty mentoring at UALR. And he has co-written a biography of his mother, Raye, a Black woman who revolutionized ship design for the Navy. by Sean Clancy | March 7, 2021 at 8:29 a.m.
“I’ve had some unusual life experiences, and I learned a lot from my mother, obviously. All of that has prepared me to be of service in a better way. I feel like this was just meant to be.” -David Montague (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

This is a feature about David Montague, the 54-year-old director of online learning and faculty mentoring at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he is also a professor of criminal justice.

When he was just 23, he lectured at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He was an investigator for the Drug Enforcement Administration and, intriguingly, was head of investigations for the United States JFK Assassination Records Review Board.

He is husband to Whitney and father to 17-year-old Riley, aka "Mace."

But wait.

Before we get too far into David's story, we need to talk about his mom, Raye Montague.

Born in Little Rock on Jan. 21, 1935, Raye (originally spelled Ray) was smart, inquisitive and persistent. In November 1943, her grandfather took her to see HA-19, the two-man Japanese submarine captured during the invasion of Pearl Harbor that was making a stop in Little Rock as part of an effort to sell war bonds.

All those dials and switches, the silver steering wheel, copper tubes, brass fittings and steel bolts of the tiny vessel enthralled her.

"What do you have to know to do this," she asked the guide at the sub.

"You have to know how to be an engineer," he told her. "But you don't ever have to worry about that, little girl."

Well, she showed him.

In 1971 Raye Montague, who went to work for the Navy as a typist in 1956, became the first person to draft a naval ship design by computer, using a program that she debugged. In those days, it generally took about two years to design a ship. Raye completed her design for the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigate in just under 19 hours.

Raye was a Black woman from Arkansas and groundbreaking ship designer and had a long career with the Navy. A single mom, she also raised her only child, David, with help from her mother.

Raye's story is told by David and Atlanta-based journalist and author Paige Bowers in "Overnight Code: The Life of Raye Montague, the Woman who Revolutionized Naval Engineering," which was published by Chicago-based Lawrence Hill Books in January.

He and Bowers will appear during a virtual talk hosted by Pyramid Art, Books & Custom Framing in Little Rock today from 3:30-4:30 p.m. See pyramid1988.com for details.

The book was originally to be a memoir, but when Raye passed away on Oct. 10, 2018, it became a biography.

"Right before my mother went into hospice, I said that I would really like to finish the book for you," Montague says. "She nodded yes and I promised her that I would do whatever I had to do to get it done."

"It took guts," Bowers says of Montague's contribution to the book. "David showed up and he worked really hard. He made time and he was a tremendous partner in the process. I'm incredibly grateful."

The work was therapeutic, Montague says. "I thought it might be overwhelming, but the more I got into it, I found it very helpful. It's given me an even greater appreciation for her life, not only for all the things she did for me, but what she did for others."

GROWING UP

Montague is seated in the eLearning and Scholarly Technology and Resources department lab in Dickinson Hall at UALR. A self- professed "people person," he is outgoing, quick to laugh and an enthusiastic storyteller.

He was born in Washington and grew up in nearby Adelphi, Maryland. His father left when Montague was just 9 weeks old and they were never close. His grandmother, Flossie Graves, sold her Little Rock beauty shop and moved in with Raye to help raise her grandson.

"We just came up with innovative ways to get things done," says Montague, who is a volunteer reserve policeman for the Bryant Police Department.

He spent a lot of time with Raye at her job at Naval Sea Systems Command in Crystal City, Va., and traveled with her when she spoke and lectured around the country for the Navy.

"I was good at dealing with other people. I felt comfortable talking to kids, adults, seniors in any setting."

Larry Howell grew up in the same neighborhood as Montague and the two have been friends since they were about 8 years old.

"He was adventuresome and fun," says Howell, whose father showed David how to ride a bike. "He always had cool toys and his mom always had interesting things in the house. She had all these awards and plaques and pictures of ships and stuff on the wall in their family room. They also had computers early on, before many people had them."

By the end of high school, he wasn't particularly sure of a career and had only applied to one college, Morehouse in Atlanta. Required to declare a major, he chose business after hearing other students doing the same thing. A chance encounter later would lead him to what he truly wanted to study.

POLITICAL SCIENCE

While exploring the campus one day his sophomore year in 1985, he came across fliers for political rallies and voter registration drives. He also overheard a conversation from an office.

"I kept hearing discussion about political theory, governments in other parts of the world, oppression."

Turned out, it was political science professor Hamid Taqi talking with a group of students.

"It's like they were all interacting, engaged in deep, political discussion. I realized that this is what I think of when I think of college."

Montague quickly changed his major to political science and his grades skyrocketed.

He interned for Maynard Jackson, who had served as Atlanta mayor from 1974-1982 and was eyeing another mayoral run.

But politics was also sobering.

"We cared about Maynard and the city. Some of the folks were really genuine, but I heard things and I saw things and I learned that a lot of people were there to build their own political careers and just wanted connections. They didn't care about Maynard."

The insight he gained would be helpful later.

"I learned a lot about people, and it made me realize it's important to understand people and know how to survive situations and deal with things. Maybe that's what made me interested in investigations."

THE DEA

After college, Montague was doing canvassing work with a grassroots lobbying outfit when he saw an ad in The Washington Post for a data analyst.

Howell dropped him off for the interview, which was in a nondescript building near Raye's office.

"What I didn't realize until I sat in this panel interview was that I was in DEA headquarters."

After another interview and getting security clearance, Montague, 22 at the time, was hired by Ebon Research Systems -- a Florida company that contracted with the Drug Enforcement Administration -- as a data analyst in the asset forfeiture unit.

He took to the work quickly and was eager to learn more, much like his mother when she was teaching herself to code and no one would help unless they were being paid extra.

"I noticed that several of us would just work through lunch to help out, you know. It just made sense to us that if they are asking you to temporarily make an adjustment and be flexible, then why not?"

His bosses were paying attention and Montague was soon taking training courses in computer forensics and other subjects at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. He was also periodically teaching classes on administrative asset forfeiture.

"I was really into it. I loved engaging with people and making lesson plans, things I do now as a professor."

He became interested in prescription drug investigations and, after basic training at Quantico, was assigned to the Newark, N.J., field office.

In basic training in 1991 he was one of four Black participants. A white former border control officer going through the program pulled him aside and asked: "What's the problem with you all? The Blacks?"

Seems he had grown suspicious after seeing the Black classmates gathering together and talking.

"My blood was boiling," Montague says. "There were four of us! I asked him, should I be worried about the rest of y'all? I see you having conversations. Does this mean I'm getting ready to get lynched? I told him not to ever talk to me like that and he never bothered me again."

LEAVING THE DEA

As a field officer, Montague loved investigating.

"I learned so much about being friendly and not using your authority and being demanding. Just being nice to people, it's amazing what you can get. You can casually stroll around talking to the workers and the next thing you know, someone mentions the other storage facility they use for drugs and you're like, what other storage facility?"

His first marriage ended in divorce, and even though he was on a career track and enjoyed the work he turned in his DEA appointment and concentrated on finishing a master's degree in crime and commerce at George Washington University.

His people skills came in handy in 1995 when he was chosen to be part of the United States JFK Assassination Records Review Board, which was formed out of the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act of 1992 to re-examine the assassination-related records that federal agencies still regarded as too sensitive to open to the public to determine if they could be released.

"We weren't created to find out who killed the president," says Montague, who eventually became the board's head of investigations. "Our role was to have full authority to define what was an assassination record."

He was traveling the country investigating records and documents related to the assassination.

"I contacted a lot of people. I spoke with people who worked at Jack Ruby's Carousel Club in Dallas. I talked to some Dallas police officers, Secret Service, the FBI. I heard a lot of stories. We would get calls out of the blue.

"I will say, in hindsight, that may have been the coolest job I've ever had. I mean, this is a really cool job I have now, but that was especially exciting. Every day was an adventure."

Montague left the board in 1997 to finish his doctorate in political science at Howard University. He and Whitney married Dec. 27, 1999.

"I'm married to the most amazing person," he says. "We knew each other growing up, but she was a military brat and she was all over the place."

IN ARKANSAS

In 2004, Montague joined UALR's Department of Criminal Justice as an assistant professor.

His mom was not too stoked.

"She had been coming down and visiting over the years, but she remembered it as the place she left in 1956. She said 'you'll be back in two years.'"

Turns out, it was the other way around.

Raye sold her home and moved back to Little Rock, where in 2014 she got to see her son become just the third Black male to receive full tenure at UALR.

Mary Parker has been with the school since 1984 and served as coordinator of undergraduate programs for the School of Criminal Justice and Criminology.

"David is dedicated to anything he commits to," says Parker, who has also served on the Arkansas Board of Corrections. "He's a wonderful person and a great colleague. If you need anything, David will be there."

Not long after Montague moved to Little Rock, the late Charles Chastain, who had been with the school's criminal justice program since its inception in 1972, took him to the Varner Unit prison of the Arkansas Department of Correction to counsel prisoners.

It was a life-changing experience for the young professor.

"They were just hungry for something and Charles was talking to them and being supportive. I'd never been to prison. I was used to putting people there. Something struck me and I asked to go again."

Chastain helped form a collaborative program between the school and the Correction Department and Montague is a volunteer instructor at the Wrightsville and Hawkins prison units.

On the flipside to working with prisoners, Montague volunteers as a reserve officer for the Bryant Police Department.

Carl Minden is the Bryant chief of police and met Montague seven or eight years ago when he was overseeing the reserve officer program for the Pulaski County sheriff's office where Montague was a volunteer deputy.

"David is very impressive," Minden says. "We wondered why a gentleman with these credentials would want to do this. But he wanted to get a better understanding of what was going on and I think he likes it.

"We became friends and I've spent time with his family. Whenever we put out a call for help, David is always one of the first ones you could count on. To have someone with his background and standing to want to represent law enforcement in such a positive light is a win for our profession. I'm privileged to know him."

ONLINE ... AND ONSCREEN?

In his current role as executive director of online learning and faculty mentoring at UALR, Montague has seen lots of activity since the pandemic began and classes moved online.

"We were lucky at our campus," he says. "UALR had a good online infrastructure in place before the pandemic hit. We already had a robust training of faculty."

Training in virtual teaching increased over the summer to prepare professors for the new school year, he says.

"It was a big success. We were lucky that we had a strong infrastructure and we could work on the fly to improve."

Besides his duties at the school, he has been participating with Bowers in virtual book events and promoting "Overnight Code."

"The response has been tremendous," he said. "We've been doing these video conferences all over the country."

There has even been talk of a film version of the book.

Who would play Raye?

"I'd like to see Janelle Monae or someone like that."

For himself? He says maybe Chiwetel Ejiofor.

It would be another interesting twist on an already intriguing life.

"I've had some unusual life experiences, and I learned a lot from my mother, obviously," Montague says. "All of that has prepared me to be of service in a better way. I feel like this was just meant to be."

Self Portrait

David Montague

• DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Aug. 10, 1966; Washington, D.C.

• WHEN I THINK OF MY MOM, I THINK OF: A person who did everything in their power to overcome obstacles, open doors for others and leave the world better than when she entered it in 1935.

• WHEN PEOPLE LEARN I WAS AN INVESTIGATOR WITH THE UNITED STATES JFK ASSASSINATION RECORDS REVIEW BOARD, THE FIRST THING THEY ASK IS EITHER: "You're joking right? There's no such thing." And: "Did you actually get to see artifacts and meet some people associated; and if so, can you tell me your thoughts on the assassination?"

• RECENT BOOKS I HAVE READ AND ENJOYED INCLUDE: "The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible," edited by Catherine Burns; "Mind vs Target: Six Steps to Winning in the Clay Target Mind Field," by Bob Palmer; "David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the art of Battling Giants," by Malcolm Gladwell; and "The Girl With a Mind for Math: The Story of Raye Montague," by Julia Finley Mosca, illustrated by Daniel Rieley.

• VOLUNTEERING AND WORKING WITH PRISONERS IS: A true pleasure in that I can "walk-the-walk" when I talk to incarcerated people. If I was able to go from a person who did not even think about those incarcerated during my first career in law enforcement and intelligence, to someone who is now a university administrator and professor that values helping inspire those incarcerated, then anyone can change for the better.

• I WOULD LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED FOR: Being a person who had unusual experiences in life and used those experiences, education and passion for life, to help others.

• TERM TO SUM ME UP: Change agent

“I contacted a lot of people. I spoke with people who worked at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in Dallas. I talked to some Dallas police officers, Secret Service, the FBI. I heard a lot of stories. We would get calls out of the blue. I will say, in hindsight, that may have been the coolest job I’ve ever had. I mean, this is a really cool job I have now, but that was especially exciting. Every day was an adventure.” -David Montague
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
“I contacted a lot of people. I spoke with people who worked at Jack Ruby’s Carousel Club in Dallas. I talked to some Dallas police officers, Secret Service, the FBI. I heard a lot of stories. We would get calls out of the blue. I will say, in hindsight, that may have been the coolest job I’ve ever had. I mean, this is a really cool job I have now, but that was especially exciting. Every day was an adventure.” -David Montague (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)
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